Catching up with ourselves
Did we need a commendably coordinated Philippine Education Summit with an overflow crowd of 500 to be reminded of all that is wanting in our public school system? These issues are all too familiar: perennial classroom shortages; quality of textbooks insulting to our students; acute lack of resources, both for curriculum and supplementary needs; and inadequate teacher training. Additionally, the special requirements of the K-to-12 program and the Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education program, which uses the children’s mother tongue as the stepping stone to learning Filipino and English, remain a serious concern.
When you consider that long list, two days are hardly sufficient to develop a sensible action plan. This is not the first time that educators and civil society leaders have convened. In fact, hopeful educators travelled from the far south just to ensure that their concerns are heard again, and not just remain on paper. Their not turning cynical is truly admirable.
The idea for an education summit grew out of the Social Development Initiatives Summit held in Davao City in mid-August, where it was decided that sectoral summits were needed to provide input for the social development agenda of the Duterte administration.
To the credit of the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education and the Technology Education and Skills Development Authority, the summit did not seem like it was in gestation for only a month. Of course, logistical support, an ideal venue (the SMX Convention Center) and efficient catered meals were provided by Australian Aid and the Basic Education Sector Transformation represented by Greg Ryan-Gadsden. Assistant Education Secretary and chief of staff Nepomuceno Malaluan involved the attached agencies of the DepEd in the summit, to underscore its multisectoral nature.
When Education Secretary Leonor Briones earnestly invited everyone to “work with us at the Department of Education towards realizing our shared vision of quality, accessible, relevant, and liberating basic education for all,” one felt a deep commitment to do just that.
Briones expressed the DepEd’s enormous responsibility in spending its budget, especially since it enjoys the highest allocation among the government line agencies. For 2016, it was P433.38 billion, poised for a 31.26-percent increase in 2017. This brings the budget closer to the 4-6 percent of GDP appropriation prescribed by international standards.
But Briones, in speaking about reforms in the classroom, downplayed international comparisons. Instead, she said, “It is not just adding years to the academic levels to keep us at par with international norms. What is important is for us to catch up with ourselves.” She explained that Filipinos need 21st-century skills to think critically, to deal with change, to keep up with the times—for example, training for jobs that become passé by the time the students graduate has been a mistake.
Most uplifting and most convincing were Briones’ final comments on the value of literature in learning and in life.
She could not have chosen her source better, as she used the words of a current Manila visitor, Nobel Prize Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa:
“There is still another reason to grant literature an important place in the life of nations. Without it, the critical mind, which is the real engine of historical change and the best protector of liberty, would suffer an irreparable loss. This is because all good literature is radical, and poses radical questions about the world in which we live….”
But a basic question lingers: How do we convince our teachers and students about the richness of literature without their experiencing it directly? With words moving them to laughter or to tears? Without books and libraries within easy reach? Without books and reading part of their daily routine?
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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